The Role of SpaceWERX in Space Warfare

As I covered in my previous blog post, the Space Force is moving toward utilizing commercial solutions to aid in the arms race against malicious actors. One of the driving forces behind this push will be SpaceWERX, which a small part of the Space Force, with only about 50 people on staff. The role of SpaceWERX will be to find and fund startups or small businesses that have desirable capabilities but that may not be able to deliver the complete solutions that the Space Force needs. The primary mechanism for funding is the use of SBIR/STTR which are programs for small US based companies doing R&D in fields of interest for the federal government.

The broad idea is that startups and smaller companies offer novel solutions and capabilities that larger prime contractors lack or would require too much time/funding to produce. Arthur Grijalva, director of SpaceWERX, was quoted as saying:

“But if we can tap into the innovation that’s coming out of small businesses, there’s just so much ingenuity there that you could get a lot more bang for your buck… So you might be able to get 80% of your requirements for 20% of the cost. So that’s what I’m trying to bring in.”

Some of the key areas being targeted, especially with regards to China’s progress, are orbit surveillance, data communication, orbit logistics as well as more advanced satellite maneuvering. Furthermore, there are five STRATFI agreements under SpaceWERX currently. STRATFI can be viewed as a progression of the SBIR/STTR contracts with far higher stakes– up to 30 million dollars can be awarded. Of those five, four have a either a major focus on space cybersecurity or major implications to it. The companies developing them and the capabilities are:

  • Lunar Outpost – software enabling robotic systems and spacecraft to function in autonomous swarms
  • Defense Unicorns – software and cybersecurity solutions for launch systems
  • Skyloom – optical communications infrastructure to support a mesh network in space
  • Astranis – software based radio(s) that can perform signal processing and change configurations such that operators can redirect signal(s)

Besides the fact that they are targeting smaller businesses, SpaceWERX is also unique in other ways. One of the major aspects that sets it apart is that they are focused on the shorter term. Most space based projects are long term, and may not even start immediately. In contrast, SpaceWERX is focused on now through the next five years and the capabilities that can be delivered in that time. This ties into the idea that the use of commercial solutions is a quick way to bolster the “arms” of the Space Force so that they don’t fall behind China or other adversaries. Another aspect that sets them apart is they want companies that will be viable even without the help of a Space Force contract, Grijalva said:

“What I tell them is that while we appreciate what they do to help the Space Force, it’s crucial not to rely solely on government contracts

In conclusion, it is an exciting time to be a startup or small business in the space cybersecurity industry. There is a unique opportunity to develop solutions for the Space Force without having to compete with prime contractors, or wait for longer term contracts with SpaceWERX being the driving force. I’m excited to see what developments come from these SBIR/STTR contracts and curious how many STRATFI agreements will be reached in the next few years.